Strength was an odd card to tackle conceptually. When I interpret this card it isn't about physical strength- it's about bravery, emotional endurance, the power of vulnerability, and knowing what battles to fight in order to overcome your obstacles in the long run. My earlier sketches revolved around the traditional imagery- a maiden taming a beast. I struggled to come up with something beyond what we usually see because I'd already made a painting that expressed a lot of what I feel about the card Strength (if you're curious, I'm talking about the piece "Tender").
Eventually I came to the idea of a woman who is splitting a sword with her hands, instead of fighting her opponent. Her features are rough, but her attire is flowing- and though she faces danger, her chest (where the heart resides) is exposed. By splitting the sword she is able to destroy the obstacle entirely, instead of fighting battle after battle with a sword of her own- and you can see she is focused and enduring, even though her hands bleed from the blade.
1. This is the thumbnail where I first came up with the idea of having her split the sword. There were several others before and they all involved a large beast and a maiden warrior.
2+3. I sketched several versions of this, playing with shapes and composition until I had a solid idea of what I wanted.
4. Color! I love coming up with palettes, and though I was initially going for gold in this piece, I ended up edging towards softer pinks and purples to imply the compassionate and vulnerable side of Strength. Below is the pallete I chose- Pyrrol Scarlet, Rhodinite Genuine, Dioxide Violet, Ultramarine (I know it says prussion blue, but I think I was wrong- I don't have all of my paints labeled), and Van Dyke Brown. As I progressed in the painting I decided I needed a color that was a bit more contasting to the reds and purples- so I introduced Cobalt Turquoise and a small bit of Quinacridone Gold.
5. I came up with a rough idea of the values I wanted in the painting, and played around with texture to get some ideas for patterns to use on the fabric of her clothes.
Previously I had done the sketching with red pencil and then done the final pencils over the red sketch, but for this card I went with my usual back and forth between traditional and digital. I drew a pencil thumbnail, scanned it in and worked digitally, then printed out the digital sketch and worked it up to a final drawing using vellum and pencil, scanned the final drawing in and printed it on watercolor paper and prepped it for painting.
Next I'm on to The Hermit, my personal favorite.
For me, Tarot has been a way to tell stories, to examine them, even rewrite them- but I've been afraid of sharing my own stories while making this deck. My own unspoken expectations pressured me to create a deck "worthy" of being used by others. I began to emotionally distance myself from the paintings, I was afraid that if my own voice was too strong in the work the deck would become useless for other people. I was frustrated, unhappy, and I decided to take a break from painting.
Recently I realized that letting my voice be heard through the deck is exactly the reason I began creating it. I've always harbored a lot of self doubt when it comes to sharing my personal experiences alongside my art- especially my dreams, and the stranger experiences of my life.
This is my conscious choice to open up about my experiences and allow others to join me on the journey ahead. I'll be sharing more of the personal inspiration behind the cards- dreams, feelings, experiences- as I paint them (right here on this new blog). I had to replace my ancient computer recently- and the new system can handle video editing. I'm excited to take advantage of that and already have a process video in the works.
These are some of my favorite thumbnail sketches for the remaining Major Arcana- I hope you're excited to see them come to life.